Heathrow’s New Runway: Environmental Exploitation Or An Economic Engine?

Sam Nicholson

Boris Johnson’s promise to lie in front of the bulldozers has been held up at customs as the government seems to be checking into a project with huge consequences. So, should Heathrow lay concrete for its new runway? Is it an antidote to our economic stagnation or an erosion of our environmental protections?

After countless debates, U-turns, statements and protests the call for a third runway flew to the supreme court ruling the project legal, stripping the legal runway from campaigners and allowing a potential take off of the £14 billion project.

An Economic Boost For A Tired Economy 

A global nation, open for business or a nation stuck with economic gridlock: Britain’s productivity puzzle is of intense debate, but is a runway the answer?

Lack of flight capacity is often linked to limited business expansion. The independent Davies commission found an enlarged Heathrow would pump £150bn into the economy and provide 70,000 jobs, it would be wrong to underplay the positive impact on people’s livelihoods and the economy that
would have.

With the country officially leaving the EU, Britain is going to feel lonelier than ever and may need a global status boost, perhaps a runway expansion could provide that.

Where only 12% of British flights abroad are for business, perhaps the solutions to Britain’s economic stagnation need to focus on business policy and our global strategy, not airports

But Brexit signifies the contrary, suggesting the runway may be little more than a symbol of international openness. If businesses lack attraction to our economy in the first place, the new runway will be of little benefit.

Where only 12% of British flights abroad are for business, perhaps the solutions to Britain’s economic stagnation need to focus on business policy and our global strategy, not airports. Or at the least accompany the runway- otherwise, we risk limited benefit for huge consequences.

Or An Environmental Emergency?

A new runway would increase Heathrow’s total emissions by 15%. With a climate crisis approaching, a political era of environmental promises and carbon reduction targets, the environment needs to be a central pillar in any decision.

Environmental degradation generates a spiral of local and global decline if the world cannot stem climate change- our economies and livelihoods will suffer.

Arguably, anything that can contribute to this will have a negative impact- but from a government perspective, much like how 1% of people emit 50% of aviation emissions, the choices of the UK will not only affect the UK. Showing their perspective that this environmental impact is ‘invisible’ enough to justify the project.

The consequences of a project which connects the world will affect the world

Despite this, if this carbon contribution enhances global warming to a point where we cannot meet the UK’s 2015 Paris accord carbon commitments, the UK fails its commitment to the world. The Court of appeals ruling against this project (since overturned) was on those very grounds.

If the UK plays its role in exacerbating climate change, everyone will suffer the consequences globally. The consequences of a project which connects the world will affect the world.

To translate this to the local, many thousands will live in the runway’s flight path. Exposing them to the health and emotional impacts of noise and air pollution, not to mention the compulsory purchase of many homes.

A Post-Pandemic Perspective 

The UK’s highest court has ruled the expansion legal. This comes amongst the pandemic of a century where social and economic and behavioural patterns reflect nothing of normality.

One of the biggest examples is aviation decline- how can we leap into a £14bn project based on pre-pandemic statistics? In a Zoom based society, can another runway at the environmental cost described be worth it?

More than ever before, we see our planet hurting. If we fail to stem climate change in as little as 10 years we lose control, perhaps pandemics, hazards and global decline will become the new normal, the economic impacts of each huge.

In a post-COVID digital world, the likelihood of this project is up in the air, our government needs to use this new post-pandemic society to account for the changing role of aviation in society, to reassess the reality of a new runways benefit and if it can it make up for the environmental impact

Will we respond to the country’s self-declared climate emergency?

Sam Nicholson

Featured image courtesy of Tomek Baginski on Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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